Recently F and I watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Man of the People.” In this episode, the Enterprise is transporting Ramid Ves Alkar, an ambassador and peace negotiator, along with his elderly mother, to a war-torn planet. When Alkar’s mother dies en-route, he remains calm and composed, and no one thinks much of it since she seemed to be old and sick, suffering dementia. Then Counselor Troi starts exhibiting strange behavior: acting angrily and maliciously, dressing seductively, making inappropriate lewd comments to other crew members. When she begins aging prematurely, the crew discovers that Alkar has created a psychic and empathic link with Troi: in order to stay so tranquil in his work at the negotiating table, he dumps all his negative emotions into Troi, and the onslaught is killing her. Captain Picard discovers that Alkar has done this many times, and the woman they thought was his mother was actually just his latest victim. Alkar argues that his success in negotiating peace is worth the women’s sacrifice because millions of people will be saved from death in war. The Enterprise crew disagrees and finds a way to break Alkar’s link with Troi. The overload of negative emotions rebounds onto Alkar, ending his life.
From a yogic and moral perspective, there’s a lot going on in this episode! Many people would agree with Alkar that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. However, Picard disagrees, saying, “You cannot explain away a wantonly immoral act because you think that it is connected to some higher purpose.” As Captain, Picard’s primary responsibility here is for the safety of his crew member, but Picard also refuses to let Alkar continue using others; when the Enterprise crew makes their plan to save Troi, they know that Alkar will choose another “receptacle” for his emotions, and they keep that woman’s safety in mind as well. They must rescue Troi, but sacrificing another innocent person is an unacceptable alternative, even if it means that Alkar will be unable to negotiate a peace treaty for the warring factions. Compromise isn’t acceptable here. Picard acts in keeping with the yogic principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence.
From a yogic perspective, I’m interested in Alkar’s chosen method of dealing with negative emotions. While we can’t create a psychic link and channel our emotions directly into another person, most of us do have some experience with pushing negative emotions away so we don’t have to feel them, or taking our hurt, fear, or anger out on another person with negative consequences. It’s perfectly natural not to want to deal with dark emotions – it’s not fun! But learning how to be with our emotions, how to experience them and then set them aside, makes us stronger people, calmer in the long run, and better able to enjoy happiness when it comes our way.
Alkar had chosen to work as an ambassador and peace negotiator, which is a noble aim, but it’s telling that, with an entire galaxy to explore and the meditation techniques of thousands of races to choose from, Alkar instead chose to oppress another person to accomplish his goals. Alkar tells Picard, “I get no payment. I have no power base, no agenda. I’m willing to risk my life simply to help others,” and Picard responds, “Do you think that makes you appear courageous? Because you’re mistaken. You’re a coward, Alkar. You exploit the innocent, because you’re unwilling to shoulder the burdens of unpleasant emotions.” Cowardly and selfish, Alkar is not the hero he thinks he is. He took the easy way out of dealing with emotion, unconcerned about the harm it did to others. Meditation is difficult, and learning to deal with strong emotion is difficult, but in the end, the rewards are far greater.